On Oct. 25 last year, thousands of students rushed into Beaver Canyon to celebrate Penn State’s victory over rival Ohio State.
We didn’t know it, but the First Amendment was on the line.
Students started out cheering and hoisting friends into the air and eventually began tearing down light posts and pulling out shrubs. If you weren’t blinded by pepper spray in the eyes, it was easy to see cameras flashing everywhere.
Many of those people were rioters themselves, clicking digital camera buttons to show their friends or snapping pictures on their phones to upload to Facebook.
Yet others of those people with cameras were professional members of the media. One of those media members was Michael Felletter, a photographer for The Daily Collegian who was doing his job as a photojournalist to capture what was happening that night.
Felletter — and every media photographer — had the right to photograph the riot. That night was one of the most newsworthy events at Penn State last year.
Charging Felletter in connection with the riot and saying his photography caused the crowd to become “more exuberant, excited and destructive” was an unreasonable shot at the First Amendment.
Though Centre County Judge David E. Grine dismissed the remaining charge against Felletter because of “unclear” evidence and did not cite First Amendment issues as a reason for dismissal, the ruling is still appropriate.
It’s still a ruling that cries victory for the First Amendment.
Felletter’s attorney Andrew Shubin, who acted on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union, deserves commendation for his work in the case. Shubin called arresting a member of the press “un-American.”
We fear that Shubin’s clear understanding of the importance of the First Amendment is far different than District Attorney Michael Madeira’s, who is working to determine whether to appeal or re-file charges against Felletter.
Re-filing charges would be an egregious disregard for freedom of the press.
It’s time for the county to let this case go and to realize there never should have been charges pressed in the first place.